IT Weekly Middle East Newsletter 27th February 2005

US actor Jack Nicholson used to say that he would never appear on television because why would people pay to see him in a movie when they could watch him at home for free? Shortly, a lot of security vendors could be facing a similar problem: why should people spend money on their products when they can get something that does the same job for free?

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By  Peter Branton Published  February 27, 2005

Moving to help others when you can’t help yourself|~||~||~|US actor Jack Nicholson used to say that he would never appear on television because why would people pay to see him in a movie when they could watch him at home for free? Shortly, a lot of security vendors could be facing a similar problem: why should people spend money on their products when they can get something that does the same job for free? We’re referring, of course, to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates’ February 15 announcement at the RSA conference in San Francisco, US, that his company is going to get into the security business. Microsoft, Gates said, would have an antivirus product launched for consumers by the end of this year, while it is going to make the anti-spyware functionality it acquired through last year’s purchase of Giant Software free for all licensed consumer users of Windows. Analyst firm Gartner Group believes this is just one step in an ambitious five-year strategy by Microsoft to deliver a comprehensive host-based security platform for its desktop and server operating systems. With Microsoft’s virtual monopoly of the operating system market, it is going to be hard for others to compete. Of course, terms like “monopoly” get lawyers’ ears twitching faster than you can say “anticompetitive behaviour”. Microsoft has been in this position before of course: its dominance of the browser markets and the media player markets led to enormous legal battles, which proved to be very costly for the software giant. However, crucially neither seems to have slowed it down very much: Internet Explorer, for instance, is by far the most popular browser on the market today, with over 90% market share. Former competitor Netscape Navigator is largely forgotten, a relic of the early days of the world wide web, when we were all excited by the potential and nobody saw the pitfalls. Symantec CEO John Thompson said he wasn’t planning to “go to the Justice Department and whine about Microsoft’s monopoly”: his company will take on Microsoft head-on in the market place and compete with it on the functionality of products, he claimed. Other security executives made similarly confident-sounding statements; which is hardly surprising as nobody is going to come out and say they are worried about any potential competitor, let alone one as big as Microsoft. Should they be worried though? Well, Microsoft has very deep pockets and tremendous resources. Put bluntly, if Microsoft decides to get in to a market, it will have an impact. However, quite how far it intends to “get into” the security market remains to be seen. And, on the other hand, security is not exactly a market where the company has excelled in the past. By its own executive’s admission, Microsoft’s failure to make security a core consideration when designing products has led to a lot of the problems the IT world faces today, and let’s not even get into the “Windows is more/less secure than Linux” debate. The key point is that Windows is still not secure and more needs to be done. Microsoft’s efforts in the past three years to address the security problems in its own software have been very worthy and it has certainly come a long way. But it’s a big leap for a company that is still struggling to fix its own problems to say it will come along and fix yours. ||**||

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